Series: Let There Be Light
Speaker: Christina Cosby
Tags: advent, christ's birth, christmas
Over the past month we have clung to the promised hope of God—Emmanuel—among us. Just last week we marveled at the boy laid in the manger. After all, he was not simply a brown-eyed beautiful baby boy. He was the Christ, the long-promised Messiah who finally came into our presence on earth. The prophets for centuries foretold of the newborn king, and the stars guided the way to the stable where he lay.
The angels sand and we joined in their heavenly chorus. In the middle of our darkest nights, God showed up. The light shined in the darkness. We adored the new baby boy in the marvelous messiness of God come down to earth.
The tables were set, and our finest meals prepared. The dishwater finished its cycle. The presents under the tree unwrapped and enjoyed. The bed sheets are laundered and put away. Christmas seems like just yesterday and so long ago all at once.
The church still marvels at the miracle laid in a manger, as we begin to settle into the ordinary once again. Today is the sixth day of Christmastide, a Sunday in the church year that historically celebrates the holy family as a unit. A family that is upheld as ideal, devout, faithful, role models for our lives. This family we adore as we look closely at what this story of Jesus growing up tells us about the one who is fully divine and fully human.
Today we come to the third set of words that Luke carefully records for his audience. These words are not spoken in the third person as the previous ones. No; they let us hear from the boy himself.
The concluding verses of Luke’s chapter two serve as a continuation of the birth narrative. It transitions us from Jesus’ birth to Jesus’ baptism and ministry. Centered in the temple, the focus shifts from what others (Gabriel, Shepherd, Mary, and Joseph) say about Jesus to what Jesus says about himself. This is an important stage in the life of God’s Son that we only find it in Luke. Matthew, Mark, and John have no mention of Jesus as a young boy. Even in Luke, this short, eleven-verse segment is all we get. This story, even in its brevity has a lot to offer us. It is packed with tradition and wisdom. It begins as Joseph and Mary make their annual trip to Jerusalem, this time with the Jesus among their company.
In First Century Judaism, there were three main festivals that Jewish men were required to attend in Jerusalem: Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. These trips were often long for Jewish families and, depending on where you lived, it took up to five days to reach the temple in Jerusalem. Of course, this is if the conditions were ideal and the roads dry. For this reason, the only festival strictly observed by all families—especially the poor—was Passover.
Our passage this morning stresses that this was an annual trip for Joseph and Mary. They regularly attended to their religious duties as their means and abilities allowed. The test does not directly say if Jesus has made the journey before, and for our purpose it is irrelevant. It says that he was with them in this 12th year of life—a turning point in his humanity, as this year marks his final year of boyhood. Next year, at the age of 13, he will be required to make the pilgrimage by his own accord. This year, therefore, marks the year that Jesus needs to learn the traditions and ritual practices for the festival. It is this context that we find ourselves in Luke’s narrative today. A context that allows us to enter into the dynamics of Jesus’ earthly family as it points to Jesus as God.
Our story starts off with a travel log. Twelve years earlier, at Jesus’ birth, Mary and Joseph found themselves in a similar situation. They were traveling for days as Mary and Joseph journeyed to register their family in Bethlehem. Unmarried, with no place to stay, angels greeted them, settling into a stable; they responded to the strangers’ greetings. A mere 12 years later, the holy family is found among another group of travelers. They are traveling, walking days upon days to fulfil their annual duty to celebrate Passover in Jerusalem.
These strangers are not the same as the ones that came in the first nights, days, and month of Jesus’ life. The strangers on that first night were from “everywhere” traveling from far countries to greet the One the skies foretold. The strangers in their midst on this journey to Jerusalem are familiar faces from their hometown—Galilee. It was common for folks to make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem in packs for safety. Traveling in large groups made it challenging for bandits along the way to harm them.
It is not mere coincidence that during Christmastide our lives are full of migrating families. Every day we hear stories of families at our borders making a pilgrimage to seek asylum and safety. Safety that every person, family, and child has a right to—a right that our constitution sets forth.
Admittedly, the heartbreak that fills these stories can be easier to ignore than the truly comprehend the harsh conditions that occur daily. But, as Christians, it is especially hard to remain indifferent as we think about the holy family and their many travels. Never are they seen as insiders or people with a “right” to a place. They are always on the margins with folks repeatedly saying, “There is no room in the inn.” In our passage today, they are depicted as neglectful parents as they leave their boy behind. Nevertheless, they continued on their journey, traveling in a caravan, seeking safety.
The Reverend Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, Moderator of the P.C.(U.S.A.) recently made a trip to the border with a delegation from the Presbyterian Mission Agency in conjunctions with Austin Theological Seminary. In a recent article released from the denomination, he recalls the story of Marylen. Marylen with her family began their trip from El Salvador to the U.S. border on August 28th. Marylen shares that before she left home, she did not know what to expect. She was escaping from a violent situation and joined a caravan of travelers headed for the border. They reached the border surprised by the many migrants awaiting a chance to enter the United States. About two weeks ago, they reached the border and currently are housed in a shelter still waiting to speak to an immigration officer. Where she is at this moment is not safe, nor was it the expected outcome.
Everyone is seeking something. The holy family, in Jesus’ 12th year, seek to teach Jesus about their long-held traditions. Mary and Joseph will soon seek to find their son who stayed behind. Marylen, with countless others at the border, is seeking safety from unfathomable conditions. It is this seeking, wanting to be found, that the human race has in common. This same seeking allows us to grow.
Jesus grows as he sits at the feet of teachers in the temple. As he learns, he too, expanded their understanding of God. It is this mutual seeking and sharing that the author of Luke emphasizes. This same seeking is often where our lives get messy as it pushes against the expectations set for us and paves the way for our own individually. Our culture often calls these moments in life, “growing pains.”
The term itself refers to physical aches of the limbs as a child’s bones begin to grow. The term, in recent history, has expanded to include the maturing of one’s individual personality as it often places them at tension with those close to them. In essence these growing stages of life create a messy tangled web that feed tensions and embrace emotions. The good news is that God finds us where we are and enters into the messy corners of our lives. More so, Jesus experienced similar growing pains as he transitioned from Mary’s little boy to God’s agent on earth.
We hear little about the Passover celebration itself. The next thing mentioned is that Jesus stayed behind. Mary and Joseph left the child they knew to be so special behind unknowingly. Their fellow travel companions did not call roll before leaving. We ask ourselves, “How did Jesus’ parents not look for him before leaving?”
Most of the people traveling with Mary and Joseph were from Galilee and its surrounding countryside—fellow kinsman. They had traveled for many days, probably at least five days, walking to Jerusalem and seven days celebrating Passover. Time enough for Mary and Joseph to respect their companions, and time enough for Jesus to make friends. We cannot be certain why Jesus was left behind. Most likely, his parents simply assumed he was with friends in the crowd. Or, perhaps, the boy lost track of time and did not realize the company of travelers already left. No matter the reason, Jesus stayed behind. One thing is certain, he is not lost, as his parents anxiously anticipate. Nevertheless, his parents search and search for him. The Greek used here literally means “to seek.” When they found the boy, he was in the temple. He had food, shelter, and was among friends in his faith.
Upon finding Jesus in the temple, they were relieved and overwhelmed. They had searched in worry and anxiety. They found him and were beyond glad to see him. However, they were not pleased that he had not gone with them. The Greek here implies the same, ekplesso; it literally means to be overwhelmed and dumbfounded. This term, ekplesso is most often translated for us as amazed. This amazement is a central theme in Luke’s gospel. It expresses the feeling of finding a lost child, it describes the wisdom and understanding seen in Jesus even at a young age.
Ekplesso is the feeling of relief at finding what once seemed lost. We all know this feeling of amazement. It comes as a friend accepts us for who we are, truly seeing us in our full complexities. This same feeling comes when we reach a point of new unexpected understanding.
The Reverend Dr. Nelson concludes his reflections at the border with a reassurance that the Church is still at work in the world. In speaking with Marylen, she expresses a deep gratitude that the church is present on the Mexico side of the border. “It is the church’s visits that give us hope,” she tearfully expresses, “they bring us two meals per day, but they even bring toys for the children.” The mile-long lines at the border were not what Marylen expected before leaving home; yet, it is the reality she was greeted with. Her time of conversation with the delegation from our denomination concluded with her saying, “Mexico is a big place and my God is bigger.”
Ekplesso—an awe-inspired amazement at how, when, and where God shows up at the most unexpected moments. This amazement, however, is only reached after prolonged seeking.
Ekplesso! Amazement! Have you felt it? Of course you have!
What are some things you have sought in your life? Acceptance from others, being welcomed warmly, achieving a seemingly impossible goal….
Many of you know that my second birthday was met with diagnoses and challenges. These diagnoses were accompanied by a long list of unadvised activities. Nevertheless, my parents always encouraged me to explore the world around me. Oh, you can’t see well, no problem. You should still learn to ride a bike. Often, feeling dizzy or unbalanced, let’s try acrobatics or gymnastics.
These experiences and exploring the things that were told to be impossible formed me into the person I am today. One experience stands out among the rest. Having never traveled alone, flown to a place, or lived farther than three hours from home, I boarded a flight to Finland to live for a year. A country of which I did not speak the language. It was here that I continually felt amazed—amazed at the bonds I shared with the faith community I served. Amazed at the generosity of strangers. Overwhelmed with the warm welcome expressed by all I met along the way.
On my first day in Finland, I went to the grocery store to stock my pantry after obtaining my bank card. As I approached the cash register, the clerk greeted me. Quickly, it became clear that I did not speak Finnish or Swedish well and was very unfamiliar with the new currency in my hand. Turning to my new debit card for convenience, I slipped it in the machine only to read “Decline.” Before I could respond, the woman behind me in line paid my 70 euro bill with no expectation of reimbursement.
These are human experiences that inspire awe within the world we live and the God we trust. Amazement that can only come from God. I imagine it is this feeling of amazement that Jesus’s parents felt upon finding their son taken care of in the temple. While they are not pleased at his behavior, they are overjoyed that he is in safe company. This feeling is mutual among the Jewish leaders gathered around Jesus teaching him through dialogue.
The event that causes Mary and Joseph to begin their search is very different from Jesus’ goal in sitting at the feet of teachers. Similarly, the Jewish teachers seek to teach, not to gain deeper understanding. Yet, they are all searching. They are looking for something more. The irony is the end result is the same.
Ekplesso! Amazement! They are amazed with each other and amazed at God in their midst.
Turning back to our biblical text, this amazement is marked by a dialogue between Jesus and his mother. Mary rebuke’s Jesus, “Why have you treated your father and I this way?” (v. 48)
Jesus, unphased by her rebuke, replies, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (v. 49) This reply directly places a tension between the early expectations of obeying his parents and his divine vocation as God’s son. It is this reply that foreshadows the rest of Luke’s narrative. Jesus claims an intimacy with God that is unprecedented in history to this point. This same intimacy with his Father will result in him being arrested and ultimately dying on the cross only to rise again, showing the world God’s good grace.
This narrative of Jesus as a youth is central to our deeper understanding of God incarnate. It is the most human encounter we see of Jesus in the New Testament: he is learning, he pushes against expectations, and he states a truth that displeases others. This ancient tale of our Savior asks us to do the same. Journey, seek, and follow your vacation as God calls and share your truth even when it is hard.
In the end, Mary remembers that her son is like no other. She decides to treasure what she has experienced in her heart as her son goes home with them. Luke’s gospel this morning encourages us to search with anticipated amazement. After all, that is what this Christmastime is about. Celebrating the baby born in a manger, as we seek his presence in our midst.
Today we continue to rejoice at his presence in our midst, and we expect God to show up in new ways. We come to this point as the Christmas season fades into the past, and as we anticipate a new year in our physical calendar.
Now that Jesus is among us as fully human and fully divine it is time to reflect again on what we truly are seeking. As we embark on another trip around the sun, it is time we ask again, “What are we seeking?”
Will we be like Jesus—fascinated at the foundations of our faith? Will we be like Mary—frantically searching for our savior? Will we be like the religious elite striving to share the Good News, with hearts open to being changed? Will we mirror Jesus’ eagerness to learn as we teach others?
When we seek, amazement will follow, and we will be overwhelmingly surprised at the living God. This Christmastide let us seek together as we look with awe upon the one that is God among us. This new year let us find new ways to seek what God has in store for our life together. When new insights and amazement come, let’s treasure the moments we share in our hearts as we continue to grow up!